Weaving an Actual Play Podcast
(Or Area Nerd Starts Podcast Because He Thinks it Will be Easy)
This diary entry is written by Grahame Turner (TheInstaGrahame).
When I started playing RPGs, I fell hard for the medium because it allowed me to be creative in the same way as writing... but without all the work of actually writing things down. I’d been torturing some of my friends from several states away (what some would call “DMing”) and listening to actual-play podcasts for about a year before I thought, “Hey, podcasting doesn’t seem too hard…”
More fool me.
I pitched the show to my friends as an opportunity to showcase short campaigns in some lesser-known RPG systems. Weave seemed like a natural fit for podcasting, because it's rules are light and the mechanics are story-oriented. We could get right into the story without the need to explain hundreds of pages from a core rulebook to listeners.
Then I just needed to turn that concept into a narrative, then into recorded audio, and then into actual episodes that people can listen to...
After complaining to the cats that I’d gotten myself into a real mess this time, I sat down to figure out what I was going to need. (There was kind of a lot.)
Building a World
To start filling the blank page, I opened the Solar Age playset in the Weave app and scanned a bunch of Story cards. As with any story, I had to fill my world with places, people, things, and ideas. Any nouns I could take from the playset directly were ones I wouldn’t have to invent. Some cards I used instantly, some I saved for later chapters, and others I discarded because I couldn’t work them into my arc.
And I thought, “Hey! That went well! Maybe the rest of it will…”
Building a Listenable Story (While Remembering the Audience)
Oh yes, there will be listeners.
And they have tons of other podcasts to which they could be listening. Meaning, I didn’t have a campaign’s luxury of time for meandering sidequests. I had to keep things moving. I have to tell a story to more than just my players, which meant relying on structure to introduce the setting, giving the characters goals, putting obstacles in the way, and letting the players figure things out. If I couldn’t express an idea with something in the playset, I invented it from scratch and moved on.
Following the Rules
My players wandered off to build their characters from the robust concepts that Weave’s character creator provides. We talked about their talents and backstories and character goals, which I worked into the reveals and story beats for an arc for each of them. We talked about how their characters would fit into my narrative and the rule set.
Bending the Rules
However, I had one player who was not happy with their build. This presented me with a Storyteller challenge. When I’m playing, I want my players invested. And with a podcast, I worried that listeners would only be as invested as the players were.
Over the next couple of days, that player and I looked at ways to re-interpret their character’s backstory, invent some new details, and create some secrets to keep from the others. By the end, we were both very excited to see where this character would go.
Preparing for the Unexpected
I am not psychic. My players were eventually going to hit something that I hadn’t planned for. Whatever I invented during my on-the-spot panic would become canon. So, preparation felt key to minimizing that. I made copious notes on NPCs’ drives and dreams.
There are a lot of microphones and a lot of programs for recording and editing – a lot of ways we could record. We did a lot of research.
Trying Not to Rely Solely on Editing
Editing alone can't save you.
We re-recorded the first episode three times. We learned a lot each time, mostly about how awkward and unnatural the early attempts sounded. Fortunately, podcasting is not a live medium, so we could just try again. And again. And again.
Our roleplay grew a little smoother every time, less stilted and boring. Eventually we hit on the idea of running through a few improv exercises before the start of every session. Never underestimate the value of five minutes of goofing off with your buds to help everyone to relax.
Forgetting the Audience (Now That You’ve Written with Them in Mind)
Even in those early attempts, I found running Weave for a podcast was about 85% like playing a home game, except with the looming possibility of an audience. Knowing that strangers might listen to this goofy game made me super nervous (which is silly, considering that was also the point of a podcast).
All of us leaned into the mantra “you’re just playing a game with your friends.” The more I forgot about the audience, the more I felt like I was telling my friends a story, and the more natural our roleplaying flowed.
Keeping our Mouths Shut
Now that we had a podcast, we had to come up with the game plan for launching it.
We planned a soft-launch – there was period when the podcast was available, but we had to keep it under wraps. When we started, I was so daunted by everything else, I never suspected keeping secrets about a really exciting project would be the hardest part.
Telling a Tale Together
While writing, I worried whether my plot was clever or unique (I’d even have settled for ‘not cliché’). This is definitely not the first ‘misfits in a spaceship’ story ever told, nor is this the first actual-play podcast ever recorded.
But, I wasn’t telling it on my own: my players were writing it too, by making decisions and interacting with the world. This helped me stop worrying, and instead start watching the players weave themselves into our story, driving the plot into new areas.
With the help of my co-hosts, we began the story of two rogues, Bo Crescenzo and Io Joule, who take an enigmatic archaeologist, Jane, on a mission to find an alien artifact. Their journey becomes fraught with pirates, giant cats, crazed scientists, orange sherbet-flavored algae, and space slugs.
All by episode 3.
Feeding the Beast
The podcast was released into the wild on June 19. Now that we can talk about it, and people can listen to it, we have a responsibility to keep it alive. We’ve got to feed it new episodes and take it on walks (I guess I mean writing blog posts about it?).
Which means I’ve got a whole new set of problems for my cats to advise me on.
Grahame Turner (AKA theInstaGrahame in the Discord) is apparently a podcaster now. He is also a full-time tech editor and an all-the-time nerd. He lives in Boston, MA with his partner (and podcast co-star) and their two cats, and spends a lot of his time hanging out in the Weave Discord, playing video games, or working on the podcast or other gaming projects.
For more information about The Role Less Taken the show, visit us at our Facebook page, on Instagram @therolelesstaken, or on Twitter @rolelesstaken.